Shia Islam

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Shi'a Islam (Arabic: شيعة‎) is the second largest religious group within Islam, after Sunni Islam. The term Shia itself is a shorter form of the phrase 'Shi’at-u-Ali', meaning “party of Ali”.[1]




Early Development

Doctrine and Beliefs

While many fundamental belief of the Shi’as are similar to other denominations within Islam, the primary belief that differentiates them is the concept of Imamah. Shi’as consider Imamat as an integral part of their belief system; that is the belief in the 12 Imams who were the rightful successors of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) after his demise. Thus, numerous Qur’anic verses and narrations are provided by the Shi’as in support of their beliefs.

Though further differences between the Shi’as and other denominations exist and are many times the topics of debate and discussions, many of these differences are apparent only on a jurisprudential level. For example, while both Shi’as and Sunnis pray 5 times a day, all Shi’as pray with their hands on their side while the majority of the Sunnis pray with their arms folded. Other differences in doctrine are more so subjective to the details of it rather than the belief in the concept itself. For example, while both Shi’as and Sunnis believe in the Mahdi, the Shi’as believe that he is alive and merely in occultation, whereas the Sunni view him as an individual who is yet to be born. Likewise, in order to be a Muslim one must necessarily believe in the Oneness of Allah and that He is without physical boundaries or limitations. However, the in depth details and discussions pertaining to these concepts may differ. To further illustrate; while the Sunnis believe that we will be able to see Allah on the Day of Judgement, this view is out rightly rejected by the Shi'as as it would be considered tantamount to anthropomorphism and something that does put physical boundaries or limitations on Allah.

Imamat of Ali

Main article: Ali ibn Abu Talib

Shia Muslims believe that since all Prophets had vicegerents and appointed successors, the last Prophet Muhammad, was no exception and had explicitly appointed Ali ibn Abu Talib as his successor during his life. The most notable of these occasions was at a place called Ghadeer Khumm after his last pilgrimage. It is here where Prophet Muhammad delivered a lengthy sermon and has been famously quoted by various narrators to have said the following within his sermon:

معاشر الناس تدبروا القرآن وافهموا آياته وانظروا إلى محكماته ولا تتبعوا متشابهه، فوالله لن يبين لكم زواجره ولا يوضح لكم تفسيره إلا الذي أنا آخذ بيده ومصعده إلى - وشائل بعضده - ومعلمكم إن من كنت مولاه فهذا علي مولاه، وهو علي بن أبي طالب عليه السلام أخي ووصيي، وموالاته من الله عز وجل أنزلها على.

O people! Study the Qur'an and comprehend its verses, look into its fixed verses and do not follow what is similar thereof, for by Allah, none shall explain to you what it forbids you from doing, nor clarify its exegesis, other than the one whose hand I am taking and whom I am lifting to me, the one whose arm I am taking and whom I am lifting, so that I may enable you to understand that: Whoever among you takes me as his master, this, Ali is his master, and he is' Ali ibn Abu Talib, my Brother and wasi, and his appointment as your wali is from Allah, the Sublime, the Exalted One, a commandment which He revealed to me.[2]

The Shi’a therefore believe that Ali was the first of the twelve Imams, who were all divinely appointed by Allah (swt). When Prophet Muhammad died, it was Ali and some of the Prophet’s closest relatives who made arrangements for his funeral and burial. It was during this time where few of the companions of the Prophet met together at a location called Saqifa and appointed Abu Bakr as the caliph. Though initially Ali, his family and friends were dismayed and even forced to pay allegiance, the Shi’a stress that Ali merely accepted the appointment for the sake of unity for a Muslim community that was relatively new.

Ahl ul-Bayt

Main article: Ahl ul-Bayt


Main article: Ismah

Ismah is defined as a spiritual grace of Allah to a person which enables him or her to keep themselves free from sin and error in the religion of Allah, by their own free will.[3]

Imam Mahdi

Main article: Occultation



Though there are no accurate statistics available, the Shi'a population around the world is estimated to be anywhere between 10-20%.[4][5]

Shias are about 10-to-15 percent of the entire Muslim world. We don't have accurate statistics because in much of the Middle East it is not convenient to have them, for ruling regimes in particular. But the estimates are that they are about 10-to-15 percent of the Muslim world, which puts them somewhere between 165-to-190 million people. The overwhelming majority of that population lives between Pakistan and Lebanon. Iran always had been a Shia country, the largest one, with about 60 million population. Pakistan is the second-largest Shia country in the world, with about 30 million population. And, potentially, there are as many Shias in India as there are in Iraq.[6]

By the early 21st century, the largest Shi'ite sect was the Twelver Ithna Ashariyyah, which formed a majority in Iran, Iraq, Azerbaijan, and Bahrain. The sect also constituted a significant minority in eastern Saudi Arabia and the other Arab states of the Persian Gulf region, as well as in parts of Syria, South Asia, and eastern Africa.[7]


Main article: Persecution of Shia Muslims

Through out history, the Shi'a have faced persecution by many different political and religious authorities. Under the Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties, many Shi'a would be imprisoned, persecuted and killed simply on account of being a Shi'a. The persecution carried out predominantly by the Sunnis has often been characterized by brutal and genocidal acts. Persecution under the rule of the Abbasid caliphates also gave rise to the heavily practiced concept of Taqiyyah. Today the Shi'as continue to remain a marginalized community in many Sunni Arab dominant countries without the freedom to practice their religion and have been subjected to labels of heretics by many scholars of other denominations.

In recent years, Pakistan has seen a significant rise in Shi'a target killings. The projected number of deaths per year tend to be between 500 to 800 and the number of those injured estimated to be between 700 and 1000.[8]

Life and Culture

Main categories: Days of Celebration, Days of Remembrance, Places of Significance, and Supplications

The Shia at large place great spiritual emphasis on reminiscing important dates and events in history all year long in order to keep their memory and message alive for the current and future generations. The most notable of these commemorations takes place on the day of Ashura which falls on the 10th of Muharram. On this particular day, the Shia commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Husain ibn Ali who was killed by Yazid ibn Muawiyah. The Shia commemorate and celebrate the martyrdom and birth anniversaries respectively, of all the Imams, Prophet Muhammad and other important figures from the Prophet's family. The Shia also celebrate the two Eids like all Muslims and mark them as annual holidays. Furthermore, they consider the events of Ghadeer and Mubahila as a day of rejoicing and celebrate it. Most of these celebratory and mourning gatherings entail the recitation of poetry, a lecture by a scholar or a speaker, and any specific acts of worship prescribed for the relevant day.

While the most holiest sites for all Muslims are Makkah and Medina, for Shia, the shrines and graves of the Imams and other members of the Prophet's family are also highly revered. Every year, many Shias go visit the shrine of the third Shia Imam, Hussain ibn Ali, particularly on the day of Ashura and Arba'een. In Saudi Arabia, many historical holy sites exalted by the Shias have been destroyed by the Wahhabis and the Saudi Royal Family, the most notable being the shrines in the graveyard of Baqi.

The Shia also profess to give greater importance to the recitation of Du'a, beyond any other Muslim denomination. The books of traditions lay great stress upon supplications, and thus they claim to possess a treasure of supplications that were primarily narrated by the Prophet or the Imams. Numerous spiritual acts of worship have also been recorded for every month or day of the week, besides the days that generally hold historical importance. Additionally, all over the world there are weekly gatherings held in mosques or places designated for worship, for the congregational recitation of commonly read Du'as like Dua Kumail, Dua Tawassul and Dua Nudba.


  1. "The Term "Shia" in Quran and Hadith"
  2. al-Ihtijaj by Ahmad Ibn Ali al-Tabarsi, volume 1, page 75
  3. Chapter 32 The Belief on Impeccability (al-'Ismah) The Emendation of Shi'ite Creed; Translation of Tashihu 'l-I'tiqaad of Shaykh Mufid by Irfan Abdu 'l-Hamid; page 83
  4. Mapping the Global Muslim Population
  5. Religions", CIA: The World Factbook
  6. The Shia Revival: How Conflicts within Islam Will Shape the Future, by Vali Nasr
  7. Shīʿite, Encyclopædia Britannica Online
  8. Asian Human Rights Commission, Feb 8 2012: Brutal sectarian violence against Shias continues unabated
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